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A Tale of Magic (A Tale of Magic1) by Chris Colfer (z-lib.org)

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A Tale of Magic (A Tale of Magic1) by Chris Colfer (z-lib.org)

A Tale of Magic (A Tale of Magic1) by Chris Colfer (z-lib.org)

Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are
the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is
coincidental.

Copyright © 2019 by Christopher Colfer
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Brandon Dorman

Cover art copyright © 2019 by Brandon Dorman. Cover design by Sasha
Illingworth. Handlettering by David Coulson
Cover copyright © 2019 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of
copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to
produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a
theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use
material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact
[email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
Visit us at LBYR.com

First Edition: October 2019

Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The
Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not
owned by the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Colfer, Chris, 1990– author. | Dorman, Brandon, illustrator.

Title: A tale of magic…/ Chris Colfer ; illustrated by Brandon Dorman.
Description: First edition. | New York ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company,

2019. | Prequel to The Land of Stories series. | Summary: Fourteen-year-old
Brystal Evergreen risks everything by opposing her kingdom’s repression
of women, but Madame Weatherberry, seeing her potential, invites her to a
school where she hopes to change the world’s perception of magic.
Identifiers: LCCN 2019012140| ISBN 9780316523479 (hardcover) | ISBN
9780316523493 (ebook) | ISBN 9780316523523 (library edition ebook) |
ISBN 9780316426336 (large-print hardcover)
Subjects: | CYAC: Sex role—Fiction. | Books and reading—Fiction. | Family
life—Fiction. | Magic—Fiction. | Fairies—Fiction. | Fantasy.
Classification: LCC PZ7.C677474 Tal 2019 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019012140

ISBNs: 978-0-316-52347-9 (hardcover), 978-0-316-52349-3 (ebook), 978-0-
316-49525-7 (int’l), 978-0-316-42633-6 (large print), 978-0-316-49600-1
(Barnes & Noble), 978-0-316-42655-8 (Barnes & Noble Black Friday), 978-
0-316-53819-0 (Scholastic)

E3-20190810-JV-NF-ORI

Contents

COVER
TITLE PAGE
COPYRIGHT
DEDICATION
MAP

PROLOGUE: AN UNEXPECTED AUDIENCE
CHAPTER ONE: BOOKS AND BREAKFAST
CHAPTER TWO: A SIGN
CHAPTER THREE: JUSTICES ONLY
CHAPTER FOUR: THE TRUTH ABOUT MAGIC
CHAPTER FIVE: TRIAL BY FAMILY
CHAPTER SIX: THE BOOTSTRAP CORRECTIONAL FACILITY FOR
TROUBLED YOUNG WOMEN
CHAPTER SEVEN: PERMISSION
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE BOY OF FIRE AND THE GIRL OF EMERALDS
CHAPTER NINE: MADAME WEATHERBERRY’S ACADEMY OF
MAGIC
CHAPTER TEN: THE MUSICIANS’ DAUGHTER
CHAPTER ELEVEN: MAGICLEXIA
CHAPTER TWELVE: THE UNWANTED
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: ANGER
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: CIRCLE OF SECRETS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: PROMISES
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE IN-BETWEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE GIRL OF FLOWERS AND THE TREE OF
TRUTH
CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE NORTHERN FRONT
CHAPTER TWENTY: THE SNOW QUEEN
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: DEMANDS
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE TALE OF MAGIC

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
DISCOVER MORE
ALSO BY CHRIS COLFER

To all the brave people who dared to be themselves during a time that didn’t
accept them. Thanks to you, I get to be me.

Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.
Tap here to learn more.





PROLOGUE

AN UNEXPECTED AUDIENCE

Magic was outlawed in all four kingdoms—and that was putting it lightly.

Legally, magic was the worst criminal act a person could commit, and
socially, there was nothing considered more despicable. In most areas, just
being associated with a convicted witch or warlock was an offense punishable
by death.

In the Northern Kingdom, perpetrators and their families were put on trial
and promptly burned at the stake. In the Eastern Kingdom, very little
evidence was needed to sentence the accused and their loved ones to hang at
the gallows. And in the Western Kingdom, suspected witches and warlocks
were drowned without any trial whatsoever.

The executions were rarely committed by law enforcement or kingdom
officials. Most commonly, the punishments were carried out by mobs of angry
citizens who took the law into their own hands. Although frowned upon, the
brutal sport was completely tolerated by the kingdoms’ sovereigns. In truth,
the leaders were delighted their people had something besides government to
direct their anger toward. So the monarchs welcomed the distraction and even
encouraged it during times of political unrest.

“He or she who chooses a path of magic has chosen a path of
condemnation,” King Nobleton of the North proclaimed. Meanwhile, his
negligent choices were causing the worst famine in his kingdom’s history.

“We must never show sympathy to people with such abominable
priorities,” Queen Endustria of the East declared, and then immediately raised
taxes to finance a summer palace.

“Magic is an insult to God and nature, and a danger to morality as we
know it,” King Warworth of the West remarked. Luckily for him, the
statement distracted his people from rumors about the eight illegitimate
children he had fathered with eight different mistresses.

Once a witch or warlock was exposed, persecution was nearly impossible
to escape. Many fled into the thick and dangerous forest known as the In-
Between that grew between borders. Unfortunately, the In-Between was home
to dwarfs, elves, goblins, trolls, ogres, and all the other species humankind
had banished over the years. The witches and warlocks seeking asylum in the
woods usually found a quick and violent demise at the hands of a barbaric

creature.
The only mercy whatsoever for witch-and-warlock-kind (if it could even

be considered mercy) was found in the Southern Kingdom.
As soon as King Champion XIV inherited the throne from his father, the

late Champion XIII, his first royal decree was to abolish the death penalty for
convicted practitioners of magic. Instead, the offenders were sentenced to life
imprisonment with hard labor (and they were reminded every day how
grateful they should be). The king didn’t amend the law purely out of the
goodness of his heart, but as an attempt to make peace with a traumatic
memory.

When Champion was a child, his own mother was beheaded for a
“suspected interest” in magic. The charge came from Champion XIII himself,
so no one thought to question the accusation or investigate the queen’s
innocence, although Champion XIII’s motives were questioned on the day
following his wife’s execution, when he married a much younger and prettier
woman. Since the queen’s untimely end, Champion XIV had counted down
the days until he could avenge his mother by destroying his father’s legacy.
And as soon as the crown was placed on his head, Champion XIV devoted
most of his reign to erasing Champion XIII from the Southern Kingdom’s
history.

Now in old age, King Champion XIV spent the majority of his time doing
the least he possibly could. His royal decrees had been reduced to grunts and
eye rolls. Instead of royal visitations, the king lazily waved to crowds from
the safety of a speeding carriage. And the closest thing he made to royal
statements anymore were complaints about his castle’s halls being “too long”
and the staircases “too steep.”

Champion made a hobby of avoiding people—especially his self-righteous
family. He ate his meals alone, went to bed early, slept in late, and cherished
his lengthy afternoon naps (and God have mercy on the poor soul that woke
him before he was ready).

Although on one particular afternoon, the king was prematurely woken,
not by a careless grandchild or clumsy chambermaid, but by a sudden change
in the weather. Champion awoke with fright to heavy raindrops thudding
against his chamber windows and powerful winds whistling down his
chimney. It had been such a sunny and clear day when he went to bed, so the
storm was quite a surprise for the groggy sovereign.

“I’ve risen,” Champion announced.
The king waited for the nearest servant to scurry in and help him down
from his tall bed, but his call was unanswered.
Champion aggressively cleared his throat. “I said I’ve risen,” he called

again, but strangely, there was still no response.
The king’s joints cracked as he begrudgingly climbed out of bed, and he

mumbled a series of curse words as he hobbled across the stone floor to
retrieve his robe and slippers. Once he was dressed, Champion burst through
his chamber doors, intending to scold the first servant he laid eyes on.

“Why is no one responding? What could possibly be more important than
—”

Champion fell silent and looked around in disbelief. The drawing room
outside his chambers was usually bustling with maids and butlers, but now it
was completely empty. Even the soldiers who guarded the doors day and
night had abandoned their posts.

The king peered into the hallway beyond the drawing room, but it was just
as empty. Not only was it vacant of servants and soldiers, but all the light had
disappeared, too. Every candle in the chandeliers and all the torches on the
walls had been extinguished.

“Hello?” Champion called down the hall. “Is anyone there?” But all he
heard was his own voice echoing back to him.

The king cautiously moved through the castle searching for another living
soul, but he only found more and more darkness at every turn. It was
incredibly unsettling—he had lived in the castle since he was a small boy and
had never seen it so lifeless. Champion looked through every window he
passed, but the rain and fog blocked his view of anything outside.

Eventually the king rounded the corner of a long hallway and spotted
flickering lights coming from his private study. The door was wide open and
someone was enjoying a fire inside. It would have been a very inviting sight if
the circumstances weren’t so eerie. With each step he took, the king’s heart
beat faster and faster, and he anxiously peered into the doorway to see who or
what was waiting inside.

“Oh, look! The king is awake!”
“Finally.”
“Now, now, girls. We must be respectful to His Majesty.”
The king found two young girls and a beautiful woman sitting on the sofa
in his study. Upon his entrance, they quickly rose from their seats and bowed
in his direction.
“Your Majesty, what a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” the woman
said.
She wore an elegant purple gown that matched her large bright eyes, and
curiously, only one glove, which covered her left arm. Her dark hair was
tucked beneath an elaborate fascinator with flowers, feathers, and a short veil
that fell over her face. The girls couldn’t have been older than ten, and wore

plain white robes and cloth headwraps.
“Who the heck are you?” Champion asked.
“Oh, forgive me,” the woman said. “I’m Madame Weatherberry and these

are my apprentices, Miss Tangerina Turkin and Miss Skylene Lavenders. I
hope you don’t mind that we made ourselves at home in your study. We’ve
traveled an awfully long way to be here and couldn’t resist a nice fire while
we waited.”

Madame Weatherberry seemed to be a very warm and charismatic woman.
She was the last person the king had expected to find in the abandoned castle,
which in many ways made the woman and the situation even stranger.
Madame Weatherberry extended her right arm to shake Champion’s hand, but
he didn’t accept the friendly gesture. Instead, the monarch looked his
unexpected guests up and down and took a full step backward.

The girls giggled and eyed the paranoid king, as if they were looking into
his soul and found it laughable.

“This is a private room in a royal residence!” Champion reprimanded
them. “How dare you enter without permission! I could have you whipped for
this!”

“Please pardon our intrusion,” Madame Weatherberry said. “It’s rather out
of character for us to barge into someone’s home unannounced, but I’m afraid
I had no choice. You see, I’ve been writing to your secretary, Mr. Fellows, for
quite some time. I was hoping to schedule an audience with you, but
unfortunately, Mr. Fellows never responded to any of my letters—he’s a
rather inefficient man, if you don’t mind me saying it. Perhaps it’s time to
replace him? Anyway, there’s a very timely matter I’m eager to discuss with
you, so here we are.”

“How did this woman get inside?” the king shouted into the empty castle.
“Where in God’s name is everyone?!”

“I’m afraid all your subjects are indisposed at the moment,” Madame
Weatherberry informed him.

“What do you mean indisposed?” Champion barked.
“Oh, it’s nothing to be concerned about—just a little enchantment to
secure our safety. I promise, all your servants and soldiers will return once
we’ve had time to talk. I find diplomacy is so much easier when there are no
distractions, don’t you?”
Madame Weatherberry spoke in a calm manner, but one word made
Champion’s eyes grow wide and his blood pressure soar.
“Enchantment?” The king gasped. “You’re… you’re… you’re a WITCH!”
Champion pointed his finger at Madame Weatherberry in such a panic he
pulled every muscle in his right shoulder. The king groaned as he clutched his

arm, and his guests snickered at his dramatic display.
“No, Your Majesty, I am not a witch,” she said.
“Don’t you lie to me, woman!” the king shouted. “Only witches make

enchantments!”
“No, Your Majesty, that is not true.”
“You’re a witch and you’ve cursed this castle with magic! You’ll pay for

this!”
“I see listening isn’t your strong suit,” Madame Weatherberry said.

“Perhaps if I repeated myself three times my message would sink in? I find
that’s a helpful tool with slow learners. Here we go—I am not a witch. I am
not a witch. I am not a—”

“IF YOU’RE NOT A WITCH, THEN WHAT ARE YOU?”
It didn’t matter how loud the king yelled or how agitated he became;
Madame Weatherberry’s polite demeanor never faded.
“Actually, Your Majesty, that’s among the topics I would like to discuss
with you this evening,” she said. “Now, we don’t wish to take any more of
your time than necessary. Won’t you please have a seat so we can begin?”
As if pulled by an invisible hand, the chair behind the king’s desk moved
on its own, and Madame Weatherberry gestured for him to sit. Champion
wasn’t certain he had a choice in the matter, so he took a seat and nervously
glanced back and forth at the visitors. The girls sat on the sofa and folded
their hands neatly in their laps. Madame Weatherberry sat between her
apprentices and flipped her veil upward so she could look the sovereign
directly in the eye.
“First, I wanted to thank you, Your Majesty,” Madame Weatherberry
began. “You’re the only ruler in history to show the magical community any
mercy—granted, some might say life imprisonment with hard labor is worse
than death—but it’s still a step in the right direction. And I’m confident we
can turn these steps into strides if we just—Your Majesty, is something
wrong? I don’t seem to have your full attention.”
Bizarre buzzing and swishing noises had captured the king’s curiosity as
she spoke. He looked around the study but couldn’t find the source of the odd
noises.
“Sorry, I thought I heard something,” the king said. “You were saying?”
“I was professing my gratitude for the mercy you’ve shown the magical
community.”
The king grunted with disgust. “Well, you’re mistaken if you think I have
any empathy for the magical community,” he scoffed. “On the contrary, I
believe magic is just as foul and unnatural as all the other sovereigns do. My
concern is with the people who use magic to take advantage of the law.”

“And that’s commendable, sir,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Your
devotion to justice is what separates you from all the other monarchs. Now,
I’d like to enlighten your perspective on magic, so you may continue making
this kingdom a fairer and safer place for all your people. After all, justice
cannot exist for one if it doesn’t exist for everyone.”

Their conversation had just begun and the king was already starting to
resent it. “What do you mean enlighten my perspective?” he sneered.

“Your Majesty, the way magic is criminalized and stigmatized is the
greatest injustice of our time. But with the proper modifications and
amendments—and some strategic publicity—we can change all that.
Together, we can create a society that encourages all walks of life and raises
them to their greatest potential and—Your Majesty, are you listening? I seem
to have lost you again.”

Once more, the king was distracted by the mysterious buzzing and
swishing sounds. His eyes searched the study more frantically than before and
he only heard every other word Madame Weatherberry said.

“I must have misunderstood you,” he said. “For a moment, it sounded as if
you were suggesting the legalization of magic.”

“Oh, there was no misunderstanding,” Madame Weatherberry said with a
laugh. “The legalization of magic is exactly what I’m suggesting.”

Champion suddenly sat up in his seat and clenched the armrests of his
chair. Madame Weatherberry had his undivided attention now. She couldn’t
possibly be implying something so ludicrous.

“What is wrong with you, woman?” the king sneered. “Magic can never
be legalized!”

“Actually, sir, it’s very much in the realm of possibility,” Madame
Weatherberry said. “All that’s required is a simple decree that decriminalizes
the act and then, in good time, the stigma surrounding it will diminish.”

“I would sooner decriminalize murder and thievery!” the king declared.
“The Lord clearly states in the Book of Faith that magic is a horrendous sin,
and therefore a crime in this kingdom! And if crimes didn’t have
consequences, we would live in utter chaos!”

“That’s where you’re mistaken, Your Majesty,” she said. “You see, magic
is not the crime the world thinks it is.”

“Of course it is!” he objected. “I have witnessed magic being used to trick
and torment innocent people! I have seen the bodies of children who were
slaughtered for potions and spells! I have been to villages plagued by curses
and hexes! So don’t you dare defend magic to me, Madame! The magical
community will never receive an ounce of sympathy or understanding from
this sovereign!”

Champion couldn’t have made his opposition any clearer, but Madame
Weatherberry moved to the edge of her seat and smiled as if they had found
common ground.

“This may surprise you, sir, but I completely agree,” she said.
“You do?” he asked with a suspicious gaze.
“Oh yes, completely,” she repeated. “I believe those who torment innocent
people should be punished for their actions—and harshly, I might add.
There’s just one minor flaw in your reasoning. The situations you’ve
witnessed aren’t caused by magic but by witchcraft.”
The king tensed his brow and glanced at Madame Weatherberry as if she
were speaking a foreign language. “Witchcraft?” he said mockingly. “I’ve
never heard of such a thing.”
“Then allow me to explain,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Witchcraft is a
ghastly and destructive practice. It stems from a dark desire to deceive and
disrupt. Only people with wicked hearts are capable of witchcraft, and believe
me, they deserve whatever fate they bring upon themselves. But magic is
something else entirely. At its core, magic is a pure and positive art form. It’s
meant to help and heal those in need and can only come from those with
goodness in their hearts.”
The king sank back into his chair and held his head, dizzy with confusion.
“Oh dear, I’ve overwhelmed you,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Let me
simplify it for you, then. Magic is good, magic is good, magic is good.
Witchcraft is bad, witchcraft is bad, witchcraft is—”
“Don’t patronize me, woman—I heard you!” the king griped. “Give me a
moment to wrap my head around it!”
Champion let out a long sigh and massaged his temples. It was usually
difficult for him to process information so shortly after a nap, but this was an
entirely different beast. The king covered his eyes and concentrated, as if he
were reading a book behind his eyelids.
“You’re saying magic is not the same as witchcraft?”
“Correct,” Madame Weatherberry said with an encouraging nod. “Apples
and oranges.”
“And the two are different in nature?”
“Polar opposites, sir.”
“So, if not witches, what do you call people who practice magic?”
Madame Weatherberry held her head high with pride. “We call ourselves
fairies, sir.”
“Fairies?” the king asked.
“Yes, fairies,” she repeated. “Now do you understand my desire to
enlighten your perspective? The world’s concern isn’t with fairies who

practice magic, it’s with witches who commit witchcraft. But tragically, we’ve
been grouped together and condemned as one and the same for centuries.
Fortunately, with my guidance and your influence, we are more than capable
of rectifying this.”

“I’m afraid I disagree,” the king said.
“I beg your pardon?” Madame Weatherberry replied.
“One man may steal because of greed, and another may steal for survival,
but they’re both thieves—it doesn’t matter if one has goodness in his heart.”
“But, sir, I thought I made it perfectly clear that witchcraft is the crime,
not magic.”
“Yes, but both have been considered sinful since the beginning of time,”
Champion went on. “Do you know how difficult it is to redefine something
for society? It took me decades to convince my kingdom that potatoes aren’t
poisonous—and people still avoid them in the markets!”
Madame Weatherberry shook her head in disbelief. “Are you comparing
an innocent race of people to potatoes, sir?”
“I understand your objective, Madame, but the world isn’t ready for it—
heck, I’m not ready for it! If you want to save the fairies from unfair
punishment, then I suggest you teach them to keep quiet and resist the urge to
use magic! That would be far easier than convincing a stubborn world to
change its ways.”
“Resist the urge? Sir, you can’t be serious!”
“Why not? Normal people live above temptation every day.”
“Because you’re implying magic comes with an off switch—like it’s some
sort of choice.”
“Of course magic is a choice!”
“NO! IT! IS! NOOOOT!”
For the first time since their interaction had begun, Madame
Weatherberry’s pleasant temperament changed. A shard of deep-seated anger
pierced through her cheery disposition and her face fell into a stony,
intimidating glare. It was as if Champion were facing a different woman
altogether—a woman who should be feared.
“Magic is not a choice,” Madame Weatherberry said sharply. “Ignorance
is a choice. Hatred is a choice. Violence is a choice. But someone’s existence
is never a choice, or a fault, and it’s certainly not a crime. You would be wise
to educate yourself.”
Champion was too afraid to say another word. It may have been his
imagination, but the king could have sworn the storm outside was intensifying
as Madame Weatherberry’s temper rose. It was obviously a state she rarely
surrendered to because her apprentices seemed as uneasy as the king. The

fairy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and calmed herself before
continuing their discussion.

“Perhaps we should give His Majesty a demonstration,” Madame
Weatherberry suggested. “Tangerina? Skylene? Will you please show King
Champion why magic isn’t a choice?”

The apprentices exchanged an eager grin—they had been waiting for this.
They hopped to their feet, removed their robes, and unwound their
headwraps. Tangerina revealed a dress made from dripping patches of
honeycomb and a beehive of bright orange hair that was the home of a live
swarm of bumblebees. Skylene uncovered a sapphire bathing suit, and instead
of hair, she had a continuous stream of water that flowed down her body,
evaporating as it reached her feet.

Champion’s mouth dropped open as he laid eyes on what the girls had
been concealing. In all his years on the throne, he had never seen magic so
materialized in a person’s appearance. The mystery of the strange buzzing and
swishing noises was solved.

“My God,” the king said breathlessly. “Are all fairies like this?”
“Magic affects each of us differently,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Some
people lead completely normal lives until their magic presents itself, while
others show physical traits from the moment they’re born.”
“That can’t be true,” the king argued. “If people were born with magical
features, the prisons would be filled with infants! And our courts have never
imprisoned a baby.”
Madame Weatherberry lowered her head and looked to the floor with a sad
gaze.
“That’s because most fairies are killed or abandoned at birth. Their parents
fear the consequences of bringing a magical child into the world, so they do
what is necessary to avoid punishment. It was a miracle I found Tangerina
and Skylene before they were harmed, but many aren’t so lucky. Your
Majesty, I understand your reservation, but what’s happening to these children
is cruel and primitive. Decriminalizing magic is about much more than
injustice, it’s about saving innocents! Surely, you can find sympathy and
understanding in your heart for that.”
Champion knew he lived in a harsh world, but he had been oblivious to
such horrors. He rocked back and forth in his chair as his reluctance waged
war with his empathy. Madame Weatherberry could tell she was making
progress with the king, so she used a sentiment she had been saving for just
the right moment.
“Think how different the world would be if it had a little more compassion
for the magical community. Think how different your life would be, Your

Majesty.”
Suddenly, Champion’s mind was flooded with memories of his mother. He

remembered her face, her smile, her laugh, but most prominently of all, he
remembered the tight embrace they had shared just before she was dragged to
an untimely death. Despite how rusty his memory had become with age, those
images were forever branded in his brain.

“I would like to help you, but decriminalizing magic may be more
problematic than productive. Forcing the public to accept what they hate and
fear could cause a rebellion! Witch hunts as we know them could escalate into
full-fledged genocide!”

“Believe me, I’m no stranger to human nature,” Madame Weatherberry
said. “The legalization of magic can’t be rushed. On the contrary, it must be
handled gently, with patience and persistence. If we want to change the
world’s opinion it must be encouraged, not forced—and nothing encourages
people like a good spectacle.”

A nervous tension spread over the king’s face. “Spectacle?” he asked
fearfully. “What sort of spectacle are you planning?”

Madame Weatherberry smiled and her bright eyes grew even brighter—
this was the part she had been waiting for.

“When I first met Tangerina and Skylene, they were captives of their own
magic,” she told him. “No one could get near Tangerina without being
attacked by her bees, and poor Skylene was living in a lake because she
soaked everything she stepped on. So I took the girls under my wing and
taught them to control their magic, and now they’re both perfectly functioning
young adults. It breaks my heart to think of all the other children out there
who are struggling with who or what they are, so I’ve decided to open my
doors and give them a proper education.”

“You’re going to start a school?” the king asked.
“Precisely,” she said. “I call it Madame Weatherberry’s Academy for
Young Practitioners of Magic—although it’s still a working title.”
“And where will this academy be?” he asked.
“I’ve recently secured a few acres in the southeast In-Between.”
“The In-Between?” the king protested. “Woman, are you mad? The In-
Between is much too dangerous for children! You can’t start a school there!”
“Oh, I won’t argue that,” Madame Weatherberry said. “The In-Between is
exceptionally dangerous for people unfamiliar with its territories. However,
there are many members of the magical community, including myself, who
have lived quite comfortably in the In-Between for decades. The land I’ve
acquired is very remote and private. I’ve installed all the proper protections to
guarantee my students’ safety.”

“But how is an academy going to help achieve the legalization of magic?”
“Once I’ve trained my pupils to master their abilities, we’ll slowly
introduce ourselves to the world. We’ll use our magic to heal the sick and
help those in need. After some time, word of our compassion will have spread
through the kingdoms. Fairies will become examples of generosity and we’ll
win people’s affection. The world will see all the good that magic has to offer,
their opinions on magic will change, and the magical community will finally
be embraced.”
Champion scratched his chin as he contemplated Madame Weatherberry’s
lavish plan. Of all the details she had given him, she was forgetting the most
important of all—his involvement.
“You seem very capable of doing this on your own. What do you want
from me?”
“Naturally, I want your consent,” she said. “Fairies want to be trusted, and
the only way we’ll earn trust is by doing things the right way. So I would like
your official permission to travel openly through the Southern Kingdom as I
recruit students. I would also like your promise that the children and families
I encounter will be spared from prosecution. My mission is to offer these
youngsters a better life; I don’t want to put anyone in legal jeopardy. It’ll be
very difficult convincing parents to let their children attend a school for
magic, but having their sovereign’s blessing will make it much easier—
especially if that blessing is in writing.”
Madame Weatherberry waved a hand over the king’s desk and a golden
piece of parchment appeared before him. Everything she had requested was
already written out—all she needed was the king’s signature. Champion
anxiously rubbed his legs as he read the document over and over again.
“This could go wrong in so many ways,” the king said. “If my subjects
found out I gave a witch—excuse me—a fairy permission to take their
children to a magical school, there would be rioting in the streets! My people
would want my head on a platter!”
“In that case, tell your people you ordered me to cleanse your kingdom of
the magical children,” she suggested. “Say that in an effort to create a future
without magic, you had the young rounded up and taken away. I’ve found that
the more vulgar a declaration, the more humankind embraces it.”
“Still, this is a gamble for both of us! Having my permission doesn’t
guarantee your protection. Aren’t you worried about your safety?”
“Your Majesty, I’ll remind you that I made the staff of an entire castle
disappear into thin air, Tangerina controls a swarm of bees, and Skylene has
enough water flowing through her body to flood a canyon. We can protect
ourselves.”

Despite her testimony, the king appeared more fearful than convinced.
Madame Weatherberry was so close to getting what she wanted—she had to
extinguish Champion’s doubt before it overpowered him. Luckily, she still
had one more weapon in her arsenal to gain his approval.

“Tangerina? Skylene? Would you please give the king and me a moment
alone?” she asked.

It was evident Tangerina and Skylene didn’t want to miss any part of
Madame Weatherberry’s conversation with the king, but they respected their
chaperone’s wishes and waited in the hall. Once the door was shut behind
them, Madame Weatherberry leaned toward Champion and looked deep into
his eyes with a grave expression.

“Sir, are you aware of the Northern Conflict?” she asked.
If the king’s bulging eyes were any indication, Champion was much more
than aware. Just the mention of the Northern Conflict had a paralyzing effect
on him and he struggled to respond.
“How—how—how on earth do you know about that?” he inquired. “That
is a classified matter!”
“The magical community may be small and divided, but word spreads
quickly when one of us is… well, causing a scene.”
“Causing a scene? That’s what you people call it?!”
“Your Majesty, please keep your voice down,” she said, and then nodded
to the door. “Bad news has an easy way of finding young ears. My girls would
worry themselves sick if they knew about what we’re discussing.”
Champion could relate because he was starting to feel sick himself. Being
reminded of the subject was like being reacquainted with a ghost—a ghost he
thought had been put to rest.
“Why are you even mentioning such a horrible thing?” he asked.
“Because right now there is no guarantee the Northern Conflict won’t
cross the border and arrive at your front door,” Madame Weatherberry warned
him.
The king shook his head. “That won’t happen. King Nobleton assured me
he took care of the situation. He gave us his word.”
“King Nobleton lied to you! He told the other sovereigns he has the
conflict under control because he’s humiliated by how severe the situation has
become! Over half the Northern Kingdom has perished! Three-quarters of his
army are gone and what’s left shrinks daily! The king blames the loss on
famine because he’s terrified he’d lose the throne if his people knew the
truth!”
All the color faded from Champion’s face and he trembled in his seat.
“Well? Can anything be done? Or am I just supposed to sit and wait to perish,

myself?”
“Recently, there’s been hope,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Nobleton has

appointed a new commander, General White, to lead the remaining defenses.
So far, the general has sequestered the situation more successfully than his
predecessors.”

“Well, that’s something,” the king said.
“I pray General White will resolve the matter, but you must be prepared if
he fails,” she said. “And should the conflict cross into the Southern Kingdom,
having an academy of trained fairies in your corner could be very beneficial to
you.”
“You believe your students could stop the conflict?” he asked with
desperate eyes.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” she said with complete confidence. “I believe my
future students will accomplish many things the world considers impossible
today. But first, they’ll need a place to learn and a teacher to guide them.”
Champion went very still as he thought the proposition over.
“Yes… yes, they could be extremely beneficial,” he said to himself.
“Naturally, I’ll have to consult my Advisory Council of High Justices before
giving you an answer.”
“Actually, sir,” Madame Weatherberry said, “I believe this is a matter we
can settle without consulting the High Justices. They tend to be a rather old-
fashioned group and I would hate for their stubborn tendencies to get in our
way. Besides, there have been discussions circulating the country that you
should be aware of. Many of your people are convinced the High Justices are
the true rulers of the Southern Kingdom, and you are nothing but their
puppet.”
“Why, that’s outrageous!” the king exclaimed. “I’m the sovereign—my
will is law!”
“Indeed,” she said. “Any able-minded person knows that. However, the
rumors remain. If I were you, I would start disproving those nasty theories by
defying the High Justices every so often. And I can’t think of a better way to
practice that than by signing the document before you.”
Champion nodded as he considered her warning, and eventually, her
persuasion guided him to a decision.
“Very well,” the king said. “You may recruit two students from the
Southern Kingdom for your school of magic—one boy and one girl—but that
is all. And you must receive written permission from your pupils’ guardians
or they are not allowed to attend your school.”
“I confess I was hoping for a better arrangement, but I will take what I can
get,” Madame Weatherberry said. “You have a deal.”

The king retrieved a quill and ink from inside his desk and made his
amendments to the golden document. Once he was finished with his
corrections, Champion signed the agreement and authenticated it with a wax
seal of his family’s royal crest. Madame Weatherberry jumped to her feet and
clapped in celebration.

“Oh, what a wonderful moment this is! Tangerina? Skylene? Come in!
The king has granted our request!”

The apprentices hurried into the study and became giddy at the sight of the
king’s signature. Tangerina rolled up the document and Skylene tied it with a
silver ribbon.

“Thank you so much, Your Majesty,” Madame Weatherberry said,
lowering her fascinator’s veil over her face. “I promise you won’t regret this!”

The king snorted skeptically and rubbed his tired eyes. “I pray you know
what you’re doing, because if you don’t, I’ll tell the kingdom I was bewitched
and bribed by a—”

Champion gasped when he looked up. Madame Weatherberry and her
apprentices had vanished into thin air. The king hurried to the doorway to see
if they had dashed into the hallway, but it was just as empty as before. Within
moments of their departure, all the candles and all the torches throughout the
castle were magically relit. Footsteps echoed down the halls as the servants
and soldiers returned to their duties. The king went to a window and noticed
that even the storm had disappeared, but Champion found little comfort in the
clearing weather.

On the contrary, it was impossible for the king to feel anything but dread
as he skimmed the northern skies, knowing that somewhere on the horizon,
the true storm awaited.…



CHAPTER ONE

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

It was no mystery why all the monks in the Southern Kingdom’s capital were

hard of hearing. Every morning at dawn, the city of Chariot Hills was
subjected to ten minutes of uninterrupted, ear-piercing cathedral bells. Like
the tremors of an earthquake, the clanking tones rattled the town square, then
pulsated through the city streets and shook the surrounding villages. The
monks purposely rang the bells in a manic and irregular manner to ensure
every citizen was awake and participating in the Lord’s day, and once they
finished waking all the sinners, the monks hurried back to bed.

Although not everyone in the area was affected by the cathedral bells. The
monks would have been furious to learn a young woman in the countryside
managed to sleep through their obnoxious ringing.

Fourteen-year-old Brystal Evergreen awoke the same way she did every
morning—to the sound of banging on her bedroom door.

“Brystal, are you awake? Brystal?”
Her blue eyes fluttered open somewhere between the seventh and eighth
time her mother pounded on the door. Brystal wasn’t a heavy sleeper, but
mornings were a challenge because she was usually exhausted from staying
up late the night before.
“Brystal? Answer me, child!”
Brystal sat up in bed as the cathedral bells played their final toll in the
distance. She found an open copy of The Tales of Tidbit Twitch by Tomfree
Taylor lying on her stomach and a pair of glasses dangling from the tip of her
nose. Once again, Brystal had fallen asleep reading, and she quickly disposed
of the evidence before she was caught. She stashed the book under her pillow,
tucked her reading glasses into the pocket of her nightgown, and extinguished
a candle on her nightstand that had been burning the whole night.
“Young lady, it’s ten past six! I’m coming in!”
Mrs. Evergreen pushed the door open and charged into her daughter’s
bedroom like a bull released from a pen. She was a thin woman with a pale
face and dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was pulled into a tight bun on
top of her head, and like the reins of a horse, it kept her alert and motivated
throughout her daily chores.
“So you are awake,” she said with one eyebrow raised. “Is a simple

acknowledgment too much to ask for?”
“Good morning, Mother,” Brystal said cheerfully. “I hope you slept well.”
“Not as well as you, apparently,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “Honestly, child,

how do you sleep through those dreadful bells every morning? They’re loud
enough to wake the dead.”

“Just lucky, I suppose,” she said through a large yawn.
Mrs. Evergreen laid a white dress at the foot of Brystal’s bed and shot her
daughter a scornful look.
“You left your uniform on the clothesline again,” she said. “How many
times do I have to remind you to pick up after yourself? I can barely manage
the laundry for your father and brothers—I don’t have time to clean up after
you, too.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Brystal apologized. “I was going to get it after I
finished the dishes last night, but I guess I forgot.”
“You’ve got to stop being so careless! Daydreaming is the last quality men
look for in a wife,” her mother warned. “Now hurry up and get dressed so you
can help me with breakfast. It’s a big day for your brother so we’re making
his favorite.”
Mrs. Evergreen headed for the door but paused when she noticed a strange
scent lingering in the air.
“Do I smell smoke?” she asked.
“I just blew out my candle,” Brystal explained.
“And why was your candle burning so early in the morning?” Mrs.
Evergreen said.
“I—I accidentally left it on during the night,” she confessed.
Mrs. Evergreen crossed her arms and glared at her daughter. “Brystal, you
better not be doing what I think you’re doing,” she warned. “Because I worry
what your father might do if he finds out you’ve been reading again.”
“No, I promise!” Brystal lied. “I just like sleeping with a lit candle.
Sometimes I get scared in the dark.”
Unfortunately, Brystal was a terrible liar. Mrs. Evergreen saw through her
daughter’s dishonesty like a window she had recently cleaned.
“The world is dark, Brystal,” she said. “You’re a fool if you let anything
tell you otherwise. Now hand it over.”
“But, Mother, please! I only have a few pages left!”
“Brystal Evergreen, this is not up for discussion!” Mrs. Evergreen said.
“You’re breaking the rules of this house and the laws of this kingdom! Now
hand it over immediately or I will fetch your father!”
Brystal sighed and surrendered her copy of The Tales of Tidbit Twitch from
under her pillow.

“And the others?” Mrs. Evergreen asked with an open palm.
“That’s the only one I have—”
“Young lady, I will not tolerate any more of your lies! Books in your
bedroom are like mice in the garden—there’s never just one. Now give me the
others or I will fetch your father.”
Brystal’s posture sank with her spirits. She stepped out of bed and led her
mother to a loose floorboard in the corner of the bedroom where she kept a
hidden collection. Mrs. Evergreen gasped when her daughter revealed over a
dozen books in the floor. There were texts on history, religion, law, and
economics, as well as fictional titles of adventure, mystery, and romance. And
judging by the distressed covers and pages, Brystal had read each book
multiple times.
“Oh, Brystal,” Mrs. Evergreen said with a heavy heart. “Of all the things
for a girl your age to be interested in, why does it have to be books?”
Mrs. Evergreen said the word like she was describing a foul and dangerous
substance. Brystal knew it was wrong to have books in her possession—the
Southern Kingdom’s laws clearly stated that books were for male eyes only—
but since nothing made Brystal happier than reading, she repeatedly risked the
consequences.
One by one, Brystal kissed each book’s spine like she was saying good-
bye to a small pet, then passed it to her mother. The books piled over Mrs.
Evergreen’s head, but she was used to having her hands full and had no
trouble finding her way to the door.
“I don’t know who is supplying you with these, but you need to cut ties
with them immediately,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “Do you know what the
punishment is for girls who get caught reading in public? Three months in a
workhouse! And that’s with your father’s connections!”
“But, Mother,” Brystal asked, “why aren’t women allowed to read in this
kingdom? The law says our minds are too delicate to be educated, but it isn’t
true. So what’s the real reason they keep books from us?”
Mrs. Evergreen paused in the doorway and went silent. Brystal figured her
mother was thinking about it, because she rarely paused for anything. Mrs.
Evergreen looked back at her daughter with a long face, and for a brief
moment, Brystal could have sworn she saw a rare spark of sympathy in her
mother’s eyes—like she had been asking herself the same question all her life
and still didn’t have an answer.
“If you ask me, women have enough to do as it is,” she said to bury the
subject. “Now get dressed. Breakfast isn’t going to make itself.”
Mrs. Evergreen turned on her heel and left the room. Tears came to
Brystal’s eyes as she watched her mother depart with her books. To Brystal,

they weren’t just stacks of parchment bound by leather; her books were
friends that offered her the only escape from the suppressive Southern
Kingdom. She dried the corners of her eyes with the edge of her nightgown
but her tears didn’t last very long. Brystal knew it was only a matter of time
before she would rebuild her collection—her supplier was much closer than
her mother realized.

She stood in front of her mirror as she applied all the layers and
accessories of her ridiculous school uniform: the white dress, white leggings,
lacy white gloves, a fuzzy white shoulder wrap, and white buckled heels, and
to complete the transformation, Brystal tied a white ribbon in her long brown
hair.

Brystal looked at her reflection and let out a prolonged sigh that came
from the bottom of her soul. Like all the young women in her kingdom,
Brystal was expected to resemble a living doll anytime she left her home—
and Brystal hated dolls. In fact, anything that remotely influenced girls to
want motherhood or marriage was instantly added to her list of things to
resent—and given the Southern Kingdom’s stubborn views of women, Brystal
had acquired a long list over time.

For as long as she could remember, Brystal had known she was destined
for a life beyond the confinements of her kingdom. Her accomplishments
would surpass acquiring a husband and children, she was going to have
adventures and experiences that exceeded cooking and cleaning, and she was
going to find undeniable happiness, like the characters in her books. Brystal
couldn’t explain why she felt this way or how it would happen, but she felt it
with her whole heart. But until the day arrived that proved her right, Brystal
had no choice but to play the role society had assigned her.

In the meantime, Brystal found subtle and creative ways of coping. To
make her school uniform bearable, Brystal put her reading glasses on the end
of a gold chain, like a locket, and then tucked them into the top of her dress. It
was doubtful she would get to read anything worthwhile at school—young
women were only taught to read basic recipes and street signs—but knowing
she was prepared to read made Brystal feel like she was armed with a secret
weapon. And knowing she was rebelling, however slightly, gave her the
energetic boost she needed to get through each day.

“Brystal! I meant breakfast TODAY! Get down here!”
“I’m coming!” she replied.

The Evergreen family lived in a spacious country home just a few miles east

of the Chariot Hills town square. Brystal’s father was a well-known Justice in
the Southern Kingdom court system, which granted the Evergreen family
more wealth and respect than most families. Unfortunately, because their
livelihood came from taxpayers, it was considered distasteful for the
Evergreens to enjoy any “extravagances.” And since the Justice valued
nothing more than his good reputation, he deprived his family of
“extravagances” whenever and wherever possible.

All the Evergreens’ belongings, from their clothes to their furniture, were
hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors. None of their drapes had the
same pattern, their dishes and silverware came from different sets, and every
chair had been made by a different carpenter. Even the wallpaper had been
peeled off the walls of other houses and was a chaotic mix of different
designs. Their property was large enough to employ a staff of twenty, but
Justice Evergreen believed servants and farmhands were “the most
extravagant of extravagances,” so Brystal and her mother were forced to
complete all the yard work and household chores by themselves.

“Stir the porridge while I make the eggs,” Mrs. Evergreen ordered Brystal
when she finally arrived in the kitchen. “But don’t overstir them this time—
your father hates soggy oats!”

Brystal tied an apron over her school uniform and took the wooden spoon
from her mother. She was at the stove for less than a minute when a panicked
voice called to them from the next room.

“Moooother! Come quick! It’s an emergency!”
“What’s the matter, Barrie?”
“One of my buttons has popped off my robe!”
“Oh, for the king’s sake,” Mrs. Evergreen muttered under her breath.
“Brystal, go help your brother with his button. And make it fast.”
Brystal retrieved a sewing kit and hurried into the sitting room beside the
kitchen. To her surprise, she found her seventeen-year-old brother seated on
the floor. His eyes were closed and he rocked back and forth while clutching a
stack of notecards. Barrie Evergreen was a thin young man with messy brown
hair and had been wide-eyed and nervous since the day he was born—but
today, he was exceptionally nervous.
“Barrie?” Brystal addressed him softly. “Mother sent me to fix your
button. Can you take a break from studying or should I come back later?”
“No, now is fine,” Barrie said. “I can practice while you sew.”
He got to his feet and handed his sister the detached button. Like all
students at the Chariot Hills University of Law, Barrie wore a long gray robe
and a square black hat. As Brystal threaded a needle and stitched the button
back onto his collar, Barrie glanced down at the prompt on his first notecard.

He fiddled with the other buttons of his uniform while he concentrated, and
Brystal slapped his hand away before he caused more damage.

“The Purification Act of 342… the Purification Act of 342…,” Barrie read
to himself. “That was when King Champion VIII charged the troll community
with vulgarity and banished their species from the Southern Kingdom.”

Satisfied with his answer, Barrie flipped the first notecard over and read
the correct answer written on the back. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and
reacted with a long, defeated moan. Brystal couldn’t help but smile at her
brother’s frustration—he reminded her of a puppy chasing its own tail.

“This isn’t funny, Brystal!” Barrie said. “I’m going to fail my
examination!”

“Oh, Barrie, calm down.” She laughed. “You’re not going to fail. You’ve
been studying the law your entire life!”

“That’s why it’ll be so humiliating! If I don’t pass the examination today,
then I won’t graduate from the university! If I don’t graduate from the
university, then I won’t become a Deputy Justice! If I don’t become a Deputy
Justice, then I won’t become a Justice like Father! And if I don’t become a
Justice, I’ll never become a High Justice!”

Like all the men in the Evergreen family before him, Barrie was studying
to become a Justice in the Southern Kingdom’s court system. He had attended
the Chariot Hills University of Law since he was six years old, and at ten
o’clock that morning, he would take the grueling examination that would
determine whether he would become a Deputy Justice. If he was accepted,
Barrie would spend the next decade prosecuting and defending criminals on
trial. Once his time as a Deputy Justice was over, Barrie would become an
official Justice and preside over trials, like his father. And should his career as
a Justice please the king, Barrie would be the very first Evergreen to become
a High Justice on the King’s Advisory Council, where he would help the
sovereign create the law.

Becoming a High Justice had been Barrie’s dream since he was a child,
but his path to the King’s Advisory Council would end today if he didn’t pass
the examination. So for the last six months, Barrie had studied his kingdom’s
law and history every possible moment he could, to ensure a victory.

“How will I ever look Father in the eye again if I don’t pass?” Barrie
worried. “I should just give up now and spare myself the embarrassment!”

“Stop catastrophizing,” Brystal said. “You know all this stuff. You’re just
letting your nerves get to you.”

“I’m not nervous—I’m a wreck! I was up all night making these cards and
I can barely read my own handwriting! Whatever the Purification Act of 342
was, it’s definitely not what I said!”

“Your answer was really close,” Brystal said. “But you’re thinking of the
Declawing Act of 339—that was when Champion VIII banished trolls from
the Southern Kingdom. Unfortunately, his army mistook the elves for trolls
and kicked out the wrong species! So to validate the mix-up, Champion VIII
introduced the Purification Act of 342 and banished all talking creatures
besides humans from the kingdom! The trolls, elves, goblins, and ogres were
rounded up and forced into the In-Between! Soon, it inspired the other
kingdoms to do the same thing and led to the Great Cleansing of 345! Isn’t
that terrible? And to think, the most violent period of history could have been
avoided if Champion VIII had just apologized to the elves!”

Brystal could tell her brother was half thankful for the reminder and half
embarrassed it came from his little sister.

“Oh, right…,” Barrie said. “Thanks, Brystal.”
“My pleasure,” she said. “It’s a real shame, too. Can you imagine how
exciting it would be to see one of those creatures in person?”
Her brother did a double take. “Wait, how do you know all of this?”
Brystal glanced over her shoulder to make sure they were still alone. “It
was in one of the history books you gave me,” she whispered. “It was such a
fascinating read! I must have read it four or five times! Do you want me to
stay and help you study?”
“I wish you could,” Barrie said. “Mother will be suspicious if you don’t
return to the kitchen. And she’ll be furious if she catches you helping me.”
Brystal’s eyes twinkled as a mischievous idea popped into her head. In one
swift move, she yanked all the buttons off Barrie’s robe. Before he could
react, Mrs. Evergreen charged into the sitting room, as if she sensed her
daughter’s mischief in the air.
“How long does it take to sew one button?” she reprimanded. “I’ve got
porridge in the pot, eggs in the pan, and rolls in the oven!”
Brystal shrugged innocently and showed her mother the handful of buttons
she had plucked.
“Sorry, Mother,” she said. “It’s worse than we thought. He’s really
nervous.”
Mrs. Evergreen threw her hands into the air and moaned at the ceiling.
“Barrie Evergreen, this house is not your personal tailor shop!” she
scolded. “Keep your twitchy hands off your robe or I’ll tie your hands behind
your back like when you were a child! Brystal, when you’re finished, go set
the table in the dining room. We’re eating in ten minutes—buttons or not!”
Mrs. Evergreen stomped back into the kitchen, muttering slurs under her
breath. Brystal and Barrie covered each other’s mouths as they laughed at
their mother’s dramatics. It was the first time Brystal had seen her brother

smile in weeks.
“I can’t believe you did that,” he said.
“Your examination is more important than breakfast,” Brystal said, and

began sewing the rest of the buttons. “And you don’t need your cards—I’ve
practically memorized all the old schoolbooks you’ve given me. Now, I’ll
name a historical act and you tell me the history behind it. All right?”

“All right,” he agreed.
“Good. Let’s start with the Border Act of 274.”
“The Border Act of 274… the Border Act of 274…,” Barrie thought out
loud. “Oh, I know! That was the decree that established the Protected Paths
through the In-Between so the kingdoms could participate in safe trade.”
Brystal winced at his answer. “Almost, but no,” she said gently. “The
Protected Paths were established with the Protected Paths Act of 296.”
Barrie groaned and pulled away from Brystal while she was in the middle
of sewing. He paced around the sitting room and rubbed his face with his
hands.
“This is pointless!” he grumbled. “I don’t know any of this! Why do there
have to be so many numbers in history?!”
“Oh, that’s a really interesting story, actually!” Brystal happily informed
him. “The Southern Kingdom developed a calendar system when the very
first King Champion was crowned! It was so efficient that the other kingdoms
began using the same—Oh, I’m sorry, Barrie! That was a rhetorical question,
wasn’t it?”
Her brother had dropped his arms and was staring at her in disbelief. He
had meant it as a rhetorical question, but after hearing his sister’s explanation,
he realized he was wrong about the invention of the calendar, too.
“I give up!” Barrie declared. “I’m going to quit the university and become
a shopkeeper! I’m going to sell rocks and sticks to small children! I won’t
make much money, but at least I’ll never run out of materials!”
Brystal was losing patience with her brother’s attitude. She grabbed his
chin and held his head still so she could look him in the eye.
“Barrie, you need to snap out of it!” she said. “All your answers are
coming from the right place, but you keep putting the cart before the horse.
Remember, the law is history, and history is just another story. Each of these
events had a prequel and a sequel—a cause and an effect. Before you answer,
put all the facts you know on an imaginary timeline. Find the contradictions,
focus on what’s missing, and then fill in the blanks the best you can.”
Barrie went quiet as he thought about his sister’s advice. Slowly but
surely, the seed of positivity she had planted in him began to grow. Barrie
gave Brystal a determined nod and took a deep breath like he was about to

dive off a high cliff.
“You’re right,” he said. “I just need to relax and focus.”
Brystal released Barrie’s chin so she could continue repairing his wardrobe

while she also repaired his self-confidence.
“Now, the Border Act of 274,” she said. “Give it another try.”
Barrie concentrated and didn’t make a sound until he was certain he had

the right answer.
“After the Four Corners World War of 250, all four kingdoms agreed to

stop fighting over land and their leaders signed the Border Act of 274. The
treaty finalized the borders of each kingdom and established the In-Between
zone between nations.”

“Very good!” Brystal cheered. “What about the In-Between Neutralization
Act of 283?”

Barrie thought very carefully, and his eyes lit up when the answer came to
him.

“The In-Between Neutralization Act of 283 was an international
agreement to neutralize the In-Between zone so none of the kingdoms could
claim it as their territory! As a result, the In-Between was left with no
authority and became a very dangerous place. Which then led to the Protected
Paths Act of 296—OUCH!”

Brystal was so proud of her brother she had accidentally poked him with
her sewing needle.

“That’s correct!” she said. “See, you have all the information you need to
pass the examination! You just have to believe in yourself as much as I do.”

Barrie blushed and color finally returned to his face.
“Thank you, Brystal,” he said. “I’d be lost in my own head if it weren’t for
you. It’s really a shame you’re… well, you know… a girl. You would have
made an incredible Justice.”
Brystal lowered her head and pretended she was still sewing the final
button so he didn’t see the sadness in her eyes.
“Oh?” she said. “I’ve never really thought about it.”
On the contrary, it was something Brystal wanted more than her brother
could ever imagine. Being a Justice would allow her to redeem and elevate
people, it would provide a platform to spread hope and understanding, and it
would give her the resources to make the world a better place for other girls
like her. Sadly, it was highly unlikely a woman would have any role but wife
and mother in the Southern Kingdom, so Brystal extinguished her ideas
before they turned into hopes.
“Maybe when you’re a High Justice, you could convince the king to let
women read,” she told her brother. “That would be a great start.”

“Maybe…,” Barrie said with a weak smile. “For now, at least you have my
old books to keep you entertained. That reminds me, did you finish The Tales
of Tidbit Twitch yet? I’m dying to talk to you about the ending but I don’t
want to give anything away.”

“I only had seven pages left! But then Mother caught me this morning and
confiscated all my books. Could you stop by the library and see if there are
any old books they’re getting rid of? I’ve already thought of a new hiding
spot to keep them in.”

“Certainly. The examination will last until late this afternoon, but I’ll stop
by the library tomorrow and…” Barrie’s voice trailed off before he finished
his thought. “Actually, I suppose it’ll be more difficult than it used to be. The
library is next to my university, but if I get accepted into the Deputy Justice
program, I’ll be working at the courthouse. It may be a week or two before I
can sneak away.”

Until this moment, Brystal had never realized how much her brother’s
pending graduation was going to affect her. Barrie would no doubt pass his
examination with flying colors and be put to work as a Deputy Justice right
away. For years to come, all his time and energy would be spent prosecuting
or defending criminals at the courthouse. Supplying his little sister with books
would be his last priority.

“That’s all right,” Brystal said through a forced smile. “I’ll find something
to do in the meantime. Well, all your buttons are attached. I better set the table
before Mother gets upset.”

Brystal hurried into the dining room before her brother noticed the anguish
in her voice. When he said weeks, she knew it might be months or even a year
before she had another book in her hands. So much time without a distraction
from her mundane life would be torturous. If she wanted to keep her sanity,
she would have to find something to read outside their home, and given the
kingdom’s harsh punishments for female readers, Brystal would have to be
clever—very clever—if she didn’t want to get caught.

“Breakfast is ready!” Mrs. Evergreen announced. “Come and eat! Your
father’s carriage will be here in fifteen minutes!”

Brystal quickly set the dining room table before her family members
arrived. Barrie brought his notecards to the table and flipped through them
while they waited for the meal to begin. Brystal couldn’t tell if it was his
freshly sewn buttons or his restored confidence, but Barrie was sitting much
taller than when she found him on the floor. She took great pride in the
physical and mental alterations she had provided.

Their older brother, Brooks, was the first to join Brystal and Barrie in the
dining room. He was tall, muscular, had perfectly straight hair, and always

looked like he had somewhere better to be—especially when he was with his
family. Brooks had graduated from the university and gone into the Deputy
Justice program two years earlier, and like all the other Deputies, he wore a
gray-and-black-checkered robe and a slightly taller black hat than Barrie’s.

Instead of greeting his siblings, Brooks grunted and rolled his eyes when
he saw Barrie flipping through his notecards.

“Are you still studying?” he sneered.
“Is there something wrong with studying?” Barrie shot back.
“Only the way you do it,” Brooks ridiculed him. “Really, brother, if it
takes this long for information to sink in, perhaps you should pursue another
profession? I hear the Fortworths are in the market for a new stable boy.”
Brooks took a seat across from his brother and put his feet on the table,
inches away from Barrie’s notecards.
“How interesting. I heard the Fortworths are also in the market for a new
son-in-law since their daughter declined your proposal,” Barrie replied.
“Twice, the rumor goes.”
Brystal couldn’t stop a laugh from surfacing. Brooks mocked his sister’s
laughter with a crude imitation and then squinted at Barrie while he plotted
his next insult.
“In all honesty, I hope you pass your examination today,” he said.
“You do?” Brystal asked with suspicious eyes. “Well, that’s out of
character.”
“Yes, I do,” Brooks snapped. “I look forward to going head-to-head with
Barrie in a courtroom—I’m bored with humiliating him at home.”
Brooks and Barrie glared at each other with the complicated hatred only
brothers could have. Fortunately, their exchange was interrupted before it
became more heated.
Justice Evergreen entered the dining room with a stack of parchment under
his arm and a quill between his fingers. He was an imposing man with a thick
white beard. After a long career of judging others, several deep lines had
formed across his forehead. Like all the Justices in the Southern Kingdom,
Justice Evergreen wore a black robe that flowed from his shoulders to his toes
and a tall black hat that forced him to duck through doorways. His eyes were
the exact shade of blue as his daughter’s, and they even shared the same
astigmatism—which was greatly beneficial to Brystal. Unbeknownst to her
father, whenever the Justice discarded an old pair of reading glasses, his
daughter got a new pair.
Upon his arrival, the Evergreen children rose and respectfully stood by
their chairs. It was custom to rise for a Justice while attending the courthouse,
but Justice Evergreen expected it from his family at all times.

“Good morning, Father,” the Evergreens said together.
“You may be seated,” Justice Evergreen permitted, without looking any of
his children in the eye. He took his seat at the head of the table and
immediately buried his nose in his paperwork, as if nothing else in the world
existed.
Mrs. Evergreen appeared with a pot of porridge, a large bowl of scrambled
eggs, and a hot tray of rolls. Brystal helped her mother serve breakfast, and
once the men’s plates were full, the women filled their own and sat down.
“What’s this rubbish?” Brooks asked, and poked the food with a fork.
“Eggs and oats,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “It’s Barrie’s favorite.”
Brooks moaned as if he found the meal offensive. “I should have known,”
he scoffed. “Barrie has the same taste as a sow.”
“Sorry it isn’t your favorite, Brooks,” Barrie said. “Perhaps Mother can
make cream of kitten and infant tears for you tomorrow.”
“Dear Lord, these boys will be the death of me!” Mrs. Evergreen said, and
looked to the ceiling in distress. “Would it kill either of you to take a day off
from this nonsense? Especially on a morning as important as this? Once
Barrie passes his examination, the two of you are going to be working
together for a very long time. It would do you both some good if you learned
to be civil.”
In many ways, Brystal was thankful she didn’t have the opportunity to
become a Justice; it spared her from the nightmare of working with Brooks at
the courthouse. He was very popular among the other Deputy Justices, and
Brystal worried how Brooks would use his connections to sabotage Barrie.
Ever since his younger brother was born, Brooks had seen Barrie as a threat
of some kind, as if only one Evergreen son was allowed to succeed.
“I apologize, Mother,” Brooks said with a phony smile. “And you’re right
—I should be helping Barrie get ready for his examination. Let me share
some of the questions that nearly stumped me during my examination—
questions I guarantee he won’t see coming. For example, what is the
difference between the punishment for trespassing on private property and the
punishment for trespassing on royal property?”
Barrie beamed with confidence. Clearly, he was much more prepared for
his examination than Brooks had been for his own.
“The punishment for trespassing on private property is three years in
prison and the punishment for trespassing on royal property is fifty,” Barrie
said. “And the serving Justice decides whether hard labor should be added.”
“I’m afraid that’s wrong,” Brooks said. “It’s five years for private property
and sixty years for royal property.”
For a moment Brystal thought she had misheard Brooks. She knew for a

fact that Barrie’s answer was correct—she could even visualize the exact page
of the law book where she had read it. Barrie looked just as confused as his
sister. He turned to Justice Evergreen, hoping his father would correct his
brother’s claim, but the Justice never glanced up from his paperwork.

“I’ll give you another one,” Brooks said. “In what year was the death
penalty changed from drawing-and-quartering to beheading?”

“Good heavens, Brooks! Some of us are eating!” Mrs. Evergreen scolded.
“That was… that was…,” Barrie mumbled as he tried to recall. “That was
the year 567!”
“Wroooong again,” Brooks sang. “The first public beheading wasn’t until
568. Oh dear, you’re not very good at this game.”
Barrie started second-guessing himself, and his confidence faded with his
posture. Brystal cleared her throat to get Barrie’s attention, hoping to expose
Brooks’s charade with a telling look, but Barrie didn’t hear her.
“Let’s try something simple,” Brooks said. “Can you name the four pieces
of evidence a prosecutor needs to charge a suspect with murder?”
“That’s easy!” Barrie replied. “A body, a motive, a witness, and… and…”
Brooks was enjoying watching his brother struggle. “You’re already way
off, so let’s try another one,” he said. “How many Justices does it take to
appeal the ruling of another Justice?”
“What are you talking about?” Barrie asked. “Justices can’t appeal!”
“Once again, wrong.” Brooks screeched like a crow. “I can’t believe how
unprepared you are—especially given the amount of time you’ve been
studying. If I were you, I would pray the examiner is out sick.”
All the color drained from Barrie’s face, his eyes grew large, and he
gripped his notecards so firmly they started to bend. He looked as hopeless
and scared as he had when Brystal found him in the sitting room. Every brick
of self-esteem she had laid was now being demolished for Brooks’s
amusement. She couldn’t take another moment of his cruel game.
“Don’t listen to him, Barrie!” she shouted, and the room went silent.
“Brooks is asking you trick questions on purpose! First, the punishment for
trespassing on private property is three years in prison and the punishment for
trespassing on royal property is fifty—it’s only five and sixty years if the
property is damaged! Second, the first public beheading was in 568, but the
law changed in 567, like you said! Third, there aren’t four elements needed to
charge a suspect with murder, there are only three—and you named them all!
And fourth, Justices can’t appeal the ruling of another Justice, only a High
Justice can overturn a—”
“BRYSTAL LYNN EVERGREEN!”
For the first time all morning, Justice Evergreen found a reason to look up

from his paperwork. His face turned bright red, veins bulged out of his neck,
and he roared so loudly all the dishes on the table rattled.

“How dare you reprimand your brother! Who do you think you are?”
It took Brystal a few seconds to find her voice. “B-b-but, Father, Brooks
isn’t telling the truth!” she stuttered. “I—I—I just don’t want Barrie to fail his
—”
“I don’t care if Brooks said the sky was purple, it is not a young woman’s
place to correct a man! If Barrie isn’t smart enough to know he’s being fooled,
then he has no business being a Deputy Justice!”
Tears came to Brystal’s eyes and she trembled in her seat. She looked to
her brothers for support, but they were just as frightened as she was.
“I’m—I’m sorry, Father—”
“You have no right knowing any of the information you just recited! If I
find out you’ve been reading again, so help me God, I will throw you out on
the street!”
Brystal turned to her mother, praying she wouldn’t mention the books
she’d found in her bedroom earlier. Just like her sons, Mrs. Evergreen stayed
silent and still, like a mouse in the presence of a hawk.
“N-n-no, I haven’t been reading—”
“Then where did you learn all that?”
“I—I—I suppose I just picked it up from Barrie and Brooks. They’re
always talking about laws and the courthouse at the table—”
“Then perhaps you should eat outside until you learn to tune it out! No
daughter of mine is going to defy the laws of this kingdom by being
precocious!”
The Justice continued to shout about his disappointment in and disgust for
his daughter. Brystal wasn’t a stranger to her father’s temper—in fact, she
rarely communicated with him unless he was screaming at her—but nothing
was worse than being on the receiving end of his fury. With every heartbeat,
Brystal sank a little more into her chair, and she counted down the seconds
until it was over. Usually if he didn’t stop yelling by the count of fifty, her
father’s wrath would escalate into something physical.
“Is that the carriage I hear?” Mrs. Evergreen asked.
The family went silent as they tried to hear whatever Mrs. Evergreen
heard. A few moments later the faint sounds of bells and galloping filled the
house as the carriage approached outside. Brystal wondered if her mother had
actually heard it, or if her interruption was just lucky timing.
“The three of you better hurry before it gets too late.”
Justice Evergreen and his sons gathered their things and met the carriage
outside. Barrie took his time as he shut the front door behind him so he could

wave good-bye to his sister.
“Thank you,” he mouthed to her.
“Good luck today,” she mouthed back.
Brystal stayed in her seat until she was certain her father and brothers were

a good distance down the road. By the time she regained her senses, Mrs.
Evergreen had already cleared the dining room table. Brystal went into the
kitchen to see if her mother needed help with the dishes, but her mother
wasn’t cleaning. Instead, Brystal found Mrs. Evergreen leaning on the sink,
staring down at the dirty dishes with a heavy gaze, as if she were in a trance.

“Thank you for not mentioning the books to Father,” Brystal said.
“You shouldn’t have corrected your brother like that,” Mrs. Evergreen said
quietly.
“I know,” Brystal said.
“I mean it, Brystal,” her mother said, and turned to her daughter with
wide, fearful eyes. “Brooks is very well-liked in town. You don’t want to
make him your enemy. If he starts saying bad things about you to his friends
—”
“Mother, I don’t care what Brooks says about me.”
“Well, you should,” Mrs. Evergreen said sternly. “In two years, you’ll be
sixteen and men will start courting you for marriage. You can’t risk a
reputation that scares all the good ones away. You don’t want to spend your
life with someone mean and ungrateful.… Trust me.”
Her mother’s remarks left Brystal speechless. She couldn’t tell if she was
just imagining it, but the dark circles under her mother’s eyes seemed a shade
darker than they were before breakfast.
“Now go to school,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “I’ll take care of the dishes.”
Brystal was compelled to stay and argue with her mother. She wanted to
list all the reasons why her life would be different than other girls’, she
wanted to explain why she was destined for greater things than marriage and
motherhood, but then she remembered she had no evidence to support her
beliefs.
Perhaps her mother was right. Maybe Brystal was a fool for thinking the
world was anything but dark.
With nothing more to say, Brystal left her home and headed for school. As
she walked along the path into town, the image of her mother leaning at the
sink stayed prominently on her mind. Brystal worried it was as much a
glimpse into her own future as it was a memory of her mother.
“No,” she whispered to herself. “That is not going to be my life.… That is
not going to be my life.… That is not going to be my life.…” Brystal repeated
the statement as she walked, hoping if she said it enough times, it might

extinguish her fears. “It may seem impossible right now, but I know
something is going to happen.… Something is going to change.… Something
is going to make my life different.…”

Brystal was right to be worried; escaping the confinements of the Southern
Kingdom was impossible for a girl her age. But in a few short weeks,
Brystal’s definition of impossible would change forever.



CHAPTER TWO

A SIGN

That day at the Chariot Hills School for Future Wives and Mothers, Brystal

learned the proper amount of tea to serve to an unexpected visitor, the type of
appetizers to cook for a formal gathering, and how to fold a napkin into the
shape of a dove—among other riveting subjects. Toward the end of class
Brystal had rolled her eyes so many times her eye sockets were sore. Usually
she was better at hiding her annoyance during school hours, but without the
comfort of a good book waiting for her at home, it was much more difficult to
conceal her irritation.

To soothe her aggravation, Brystal thought about the last page she had
read in The Tales of Tidbit Twitch before falling asleep the night before. The
story’s hero, a field mouse named Tidbit, was hanging off a cliff while
battling a ferocious dragon. His tiny claws were getting tired as he swung
from ledge to ledge to dodge the monster’s scorching breath. With his last bit
of strength, he threw his small sword at the dragon, hoping it would wound
the beast and give him a chance to climb to safety.

“Miss Evergreen?”
By some miracle, Tidbit’s sword flew through the air and pierced the
dragon’s eye. The creature jerked its head toward the heavens and howled in
pain, sending fiery geysers through the night sky. As Tidbit crawled down the
side of the cliff, the dragon whipped its pointed tail and knocked the mouse
off the boulder he clung to. Tidbit fell toward the rocky earth below, limbs
flailing all around as he reached for something—anything—to grab on to.
“Miss Evergreen!”
Brystal sat straight up in her seat like she had been pricked with an
invisible pin. All her classmates turned toward her desk in the back row and
stared at her with matching frowns. Their teacher, Mrs. Plume, glared at her
from the front of the classroom with pursed lips and one of her penciled
eyebrows raised.
“Um… yes?” Brystal asked with large innocent eyes.
“Miss Evergreen, are you paying attention or are you daydreaming again?”
Mrs. Plume asked.
“I’m paying attention, of course,” she lied.
“Then what is the appropriate way to handle the situation I just

described?” the teacher challenged.
Obviously, Brystal didn’t have a clue what the class was discussing. The

other girls giggled in anticipation of a good chastising. Fortunately, Brystal
knew an answer that solved all of Mrs. Plume’s questions, no matter what the
topic was.

“I suppose I would ask my future husband what to do?” she replied.
Mrs. Plume stared at Brystal for a few moments without blinking.
“That’s… correct,” the teacher was surprised to admit.
Brystal sighed with relief and her classmates sighed with disappointment.
They always looked forward to moments when Brystal was reprimanded for
her infamous daydreaming. Even Mrs. Plume seemed disappointed at a
missed opportunity to scold her. The teacher would have slumped if her tight
corset allowed it.
“Moving on,” Mrs. Plume instructed. “We’ll now review the difference
between tying hair ribbons and shoelaces, and the dangers of mixing them
up.”
The students cheered for their next lesson, and their enthusiasm made
Brystal die a little inside. She knew she couldn’t be the only girl at school
who wanted a more exciting life than what they were being prepared for, but
as she watched her classmates strain their necks to see ribbons and shoelaces,
she couldn’t tell if they were all phenomenal actors or just phenomenally
brainwashed.
Brystal knew better than to mention her dreams or frustrations to anyone,
but she didn’t have to say anything for people to know she was different. Like
wolves from an opposing pack, the whole school could practically smell it on
her. And since the Southern Kingdom was a scary place for people who
thought differently, Brystal’s classmates kept their distance from her, as if
difference was a contagious disease.
Don’t worry, one day they’ll regret this…, Brystal thought. One day they’ll
wish they were nicer to me.… One day I’ll be celebrated for my differences.…
One day they’ll be the unhappy ones, not me.…
To avoid any more unwanted attention, Brystal remained as quiet and alert
as possible until the end of class. The only time she moved a muscle was to
lightly caress the reading glasses hidden in her dress.

That afternoon, Brystal walked home from school at a slower pace than usual.
With nothing but chores waiting for her, she decided to stroll through the
Chariot Hills town square, hoping the change of scenery would take her mind

off her troubles.
The Champion Castle, the cathedral, the courthouse, and the University of

Law each towered over the four sides of the town square. Busy shops and
markets filled the corners and spaces between the authoritative structures. In
the center of the town square was a grassy patch where a statue of King
Champion I stood above a shallow fountain. The statue depicted the sovereign
on horseback as he pointed a sword into a seemingly prosperous future, but
the tribute received more attention from pigeons than from the citizens
wandering through town.

As Brystal walked past the University of Law, she gazed up at its stone
walls and impressive glass domes with envy. At that very moment, she knew
Barrie was somewhere inside agonizing over his examination. Brystal could
have sworn she felt her brother’s anxiety radiating through the walls, but still,
she would have given anything to trade places with him. She stopped to say a
prayer for him before moving on.

Brystal had no choice but to pass the courthouse as she continued through
the town square. It was an ominous building with tall pillars and a triangular
roof. Each pillar had the image of a High Justice carved into it, and the
carvings scowled down at the citizens on the ground like disapproving parents
—an expression Brystal knew well. She couldn’t stop a wave of anger from
flooding her stomach as she eyed the intimidating faces above her. Men like
them—men like her father—were the reason she had such little happiness.

In a corner of the town square, between the university and courthouse, was
the Chariot Hills Library. It was a small and modest structure compared to the
buildings surrounding it, but to Brystal, the library could have been a palace.
A black plaque with a red triangle was displayed above its double doors—a
common symbol in the Southern Kingdom that reminded women they weren’t
allowed to enter—but the law did nothing to diminish Brystal’s desire to go
in.

Being so close to so many books and being forbidden to enjoy them gave
Brystal a terrible feeling whenever she laid eyes on the library, but today the
sensation was unbearable. The helplessness she felt triggered an avalanche of
emotions, and all the fear, doubt, and heartbreak she had been suppressing
trampled over her like a stampede. The scenic route home was creating the
opposite effect of what she had intended, and the town square suddenly felt
like a cage closing in on her.

Brystal was so overwhelmed she could barely breathe. She shooed a
cluster of pigeons away from the Champion statue and had a seat on the edge
of the fountain to catch her breath.

“I can’t do this anymore…,” she panted. “I keep telling myself that things

will get better, but they only get worse and worse.… If life is just a series of
disappointments, then I wish I had never been born.… I wish I could turn into
a cloud and float far, far away from here.…”

Tears spilled down her face before she knew they were coming. A few
townspeople noticed the emotional scene and paused to gawk at her, but
Brystal couldn’t care less. She buried her face in the palms of her hands and
wept in front of everyone.

“Please, God, I need more than just faith to keep going…,” she cried. “I
need proof that I’m not as foolish as I feel.… I need a message that life won’t
always be so miserable.… Please, I need a sign.…”

Ironically, after Brystal finished crying and had dried her tears, a sign was
the first thing she saw. An old and rickety librarian emerged from the library
with a bright yellow board under his arm. With shaky hands, he pinned the
board on the library’s entranceway. Brystal had never seen a sign posted
outside the library before and was very curious. Once the librarian returned
inside, she hurried to the front steps to read the words painted across the
board:

MAID WANTED

Suddenly, an idea came to Brystal that sent tingles through her entire body.
Before she could second-guess herself—and before she was even fully aware
of what she was doing—Brystal pushed through the front doors and entered
the Chariot Hills Library.

Her first glimpse of the library was so overstimulating it took a few
moments for Brystal’s mind to catch up with her eyes. In all the years she had
spent wondering what the library looked like inside, she never imagined it
could be so magnificent. It was an enormous circular room with an emerald
carpet, the walls were covered in wooden paneling, and natural light flowed
in from a glass ceiling. A massive silver globe stood in the center of the first
floor, and dozens of law students were spread out at antique tables and
armchairs around it. But most amazing of all, the library was surrounded by
three stories of bookshelves that stretched into the upper floors like a
multilevel maze.

The sight of thousands and thousands of books made Brystal light-headed,
like she had just stepped into a dream. She never knew so many books existed
in the whole world, let alone in her local library.

Brystal spotted the elderly librarian standing behind a counter at the front
of the room. Her impromptu plan would end in disaster if she didn’t play her
cards right. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, wished herself luck, and

approached him.
“Excuse me, sir?” Brystal asked.
The librarian was busy applying labels to a fresh stack of books and didn’t

notice her right away. Brystal instantly felt a spark of jealousy toward the old
man—she could only imagine how many books he had touched and read over
the years.

“Excuse me, Mr. Woolsore?” she asked after reading the nameplate on the
countertop.

The librarian squinted at her and reached for a pair of thick spectacles
nearby. Once his glasses were on, the old man’s jaw dropped. He pointed at
Brystal like a wild animal was loose in the building.

“Young lady, what are you doing in here?” Mr. Woolsore exclaimed.
“Women aren’t allowed in the library! Now, get out before I call the
authorities!”

“Actually, it’s perfectly legal for me to be inside,” Brystal explained,
hoping her tranquil tone would mellow his. “You see, according to the Hired
Help Act of 417, women are allowed to enter male-only premises to seek
employment. By posting the sign outside, you’ve given me the legal right to
enter the building and apply for the position.”

Brystal knew the Hired Help Act of 417 only applied to women older than
twenty, but she was hoping the librarian wasn’t as familiar with the law as she
was. Mr. Woolsore scrunched his fuzzy eyebrows and watched her like a
hawk.

“You want to be a maid?” he asked.
“Yes,” Brystal said with a shrug. “It’s honest work, is it not?”
“But shouldn’t a girl your age be busy learning how to curtsy and flirt with
boys?” Mr. Woolsore asked.
Brystal was compelled to argue, but she swallowed her pride and kept her
eye on the prize.
“To be honest, Mr. Woolsore,” she said, “a boy is exactly why I want the
position. You see, there’s this Deputy Justice I’m just smitten with. I
desperately want him to propose to me one day, but I don’t think he sees me
as wife material. My family has servants—many, many servants—so he has
no reason to believe I’m even capable of household chores. But when he finds
out I’ve been cleaning the library all by myself—to perfection, I might add—
he’ll know I’ll make him a better wife than all the other girls in town.”
Brystal even twirled her hair and blinked her eyes helplessly like a deer to
sell the performance.
“I sympathize, but you aren’t a practical candidate for the position,” the
librarian said. “I can’t have you in the library while law students are studying.

A young girl would be too much of a distraction for young men.”
“Then perhaps I could clean in the evening after the library closes,”

Brystal suggested. “Most establishments have their maids clean after hours. I
could start as soon as you leave and it would be spotless when you return the
next morning.”

Mr. Woolsore crossed his arms and eyed her suspiciously. She was almost
too convincing to be trusted.

“This isn’t some scheme, is it?” he inquired. “You aren’t applying for the
job so you can be around books, are you?”

Brystal felt her heart plunge into her gut. The librarian was seeing through
her dishonesty as easily as her mother would. But instead of letting the panic
surface on her face, Brystal laughed the idea off and tried using his ignorance
against him.

“Mr. Woolsore, I’m a fourteen-year-old girl. What interest would I have in
books?”

According to the librarian’s body language, reverse psychology did the
trick. Mr. Woolsore chuckled to himself, as if he was foolish for thinking it in
the first place. Brystal knew she was close to persuading him—she just
needed to offer him one more perk to sweeten the deal.

“How much does the position pay, sir?” she asked.
“Six gold coins a week,” he said. “The position is five days a week.
Employees don’t work weekends or the royal holidays Kingsgiving and
Champions Eve.”
“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Woolsore, since you’ll be doing me a favor, I’ll do
you a favor, too. If you hire me to clean the library, I’ll do it for three gold
coins a week.”
Her offer was music to Mr. Woolsore’s ears. He scratched his chin and
nodded as it became more and more appealing to him.
“What’s your name, young lady?” he asked.
“It’s Brystal Ev—”
Luckily, Brystal stopped herself before revealing her family name. If the
librarian knew she was an Evergreen, her father might find out she had
applied for the job—and that was a risk she couldn’t take. So Brystal gave
him the first name that came to mind, and her alias was born.
“My name is Bailey—Brystal Eve Bailey.”
“Well, all right then, Miss Bailey,” Mr. Woolsore said. “If you can start
tomorrow evening, you’re hired.”
Brystal couldn’t contain her excitement. Her whole body began to vibrate
like she was being tickled from the inside out. She reached across the counter
and vigorously shook the librarian’s frail hand.

“Thank you, Mr. Woolsore—thank you so much! I promise I won’t let you
down! Oh, pardon my grip—hope that didn’t hurt! See you tomorrow!”

Brystal practically floated out of the library and down the road to the
eastern countryside. Her plan was more successful than she could ever have
predicted. In just one day, she would have access to thousands and thousands
of books. And with no one in the library to supervise her, Brystal could easily
sneak a few home each night after she was finished cleaning.

The prospect was exhilarating and Brystal couldn’t remember the last time
she had felt so much happiness coursing through her veins. However,
Brystal’s euphoria came to a screeching halt as soon as the Evergreen house
appeared on the horizon. For the first time, she realized just how impractical
the situation was. There wasn’t a feasible way she could work evenings at the
library without her family noticing her absence—she would need to give them
a reason for why she was leaving the house at night and staying out so late.

If she wanted to work at the library, Brystal would have to create a
spectacular lie that not only gained her family’s approval, but also avoided
any suspicion whatsoever. If she was caught, the consequences would be
catastrophic.

Brystal clenched her jaw as she thought about the daunting challenge
ahead. Apparently getting a job at the library was only her first impossible
task of the day.

Later that night, the Evergreen house was buzzing with celebration. A
messenger had arrived from the University of Law with the news that Barrie
had passed his examination with the highest marks in his class. Brystal and
Mrs. Evergreen cooked up a feast to commemorate Barrie’s victory, including
a chocolate cake Brystal made from scratch. By the time the Evergreens sat
down to eat, Barrie was already wearing his new Deputy Justice robes.

“How do I look?” he asked everyone at the table.
“Like a child wearing a man’s clothes,” Brooks quipped.
“No, you look perfect,” Brystal said. “Like you were born for it.”
Brystal was so proud of her brother, but also especially grateful for an
excuse to look so cheerful. Whenever she thought of her new job at the
library, no one questioned the smile that beamed across her face. Everyone in
her family shared the same excitement—even Brooks’s bitterness softened
after a few glasses of sparkling cider.
“I can’t believe my little boy is going to be a Deputy Justice,” Mrs.
Evergreen said through happy tears. “It feels like only yesterday you were

wearing my long shirts and sentencing your toys to hard labor in the
backyard. My, how time flies!”

“I am so proud of you, son,” Justice Evergreen said. “You’re keeping the
family legacy alive and well.”

“Thank you, Father,” Barrie said. “Do you have any advice for my first
week at the courthouse?”

“You’ll only be observing cases for your first month, but pay attention to
every detail of the proceedings,” the Justice advised. “After that, you’ll be
assigned your first prosecution. No matter what the charges are, you must
recommend the maximum penalty, otherwise the sitting Justice will think
you’re weak and will likely side with the defense. Now, when you’re assigned
your first defense, the secret to—”

Justice Evergreen went quiet as his eyes fell on Brystal. He had almost
forgotten she was in the room.

“On second thought, perhaps we should continue this at a later time,” he
said. “I would hate for our conversation to be absorbed by prying ears.”

The Justice’s comments made Brystal go tense, but not because her
father’s words offended her. After a long afternoon of plotting, Brystal was
waiting for the perfect moment to secure her future at the library, and this
might be her only chance.

“Father? May I say something?” she asked.
Justice Evergreen grunted like it was a chore to give his daughter any
attention. The other Evergreens looked back and forth at Brystal and the
Justice with nervous eyes, fearing dinner would end on the same note as
breakfast had.
“Yes, what is it?” the Justice asked.
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said this morning,” Brystal
began. “I don’t want to be disrespectful to the law, so perhaps you were right
when you suggested I eat meals elsewhere.”
“Oh?” her father said.
“Yes, and I believe I’ve found the perfect solution,” Brystal continued.
“Today after school, I stopped by the Chariot Hills Home for the Hopeless.
They’re desperately understaffed, so with your blessing, I would like to start
volunteering there evenings after school.”
“You want to catch fleas at a poorhouse?” Brooks asked in disbelief.
Mrs. Evergreen held out a hand to silence her eldest son. “Thank you,
Brooks, but your father and I will handle this,” she said. “Brystal, it’s very
kind that you want to help the less fortunate, but I need your help in this
house. I can’t manage all the chores and cooking dinner on my own.”
Brystal lowered her head and looked at her hands so Mrs. Evergreen


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